A year ago, Mustafa Johnson was the new guy trying to get to know everybody.
This year, he’s the old guy trying to get to know everybody.
Leading up to fall camp, which starts Thursday, BuffZone.com is previewing each position group for the Buffs. In this installment, the focus is on the defensive line, which has had heavy turnover in the offseason, leaving Johnson as the most experienced in the group.
“I’m excited to step into that role and help my teammates,” Johnson said.
For first-year head coach Mel Tucker and defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh, Johnson isn’t a bad player to build around.
One of the most disruptive linemen in the Pac-12 a year ago, Johnson had 8.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss. He earned preseason first-team all-conference recognition earlier this week in a media vote.
As good as he was last year, Johnson believes he can be even better, as he felt he missed some opportunities for big plays a year ago. Johnson will certainly get more attention from the opposition this year, especially with the unknowns around him.
Sophomore end Terrance Lang is the only other scholarship lineman to have played a snap with the Buffs. In a reserve role last year, he had 11 tackles and one sack in 263 snaps played.
With a season of college football under his belt, Lang said in spring that he felt more comfortable than he was a year ago.
“I’m trying to take it and run with it and then just listen to what coach Brumbaugh has to say; he’s a good coach,” Lang said. “I’m trying to listen to what he has to say and just keep taking my game to the next level every day.”
Redshirt freshman Jalen Sami also returns after redshirting and there are high hopes for him. At 6-foot-6, 320 pounds, he’s got ideal size for a nose tackle and has shown the ability to be a standout in the trenches.
While that trio might wind up being the leaders of the line, several players will be in the rotation. Brumbaugh, who came to CU after two seasons at Maryland, will have his work cut out for him in fall camp to get everyone up to speed, however. Not only is the group mainly inexperienced, but five of the nine scholarship linemen will be practicing as Buffs for the first time next week.
From last year, CU lost starting nose tackle Javier Edwards and rotational players Jase Franke, Chris Mulumba and Lyle Tuiloma to graduation. They also lost starting end Israel Antwine, who shined as a true freshman but transferred to Oklahoma State; and freshman Tava Finau, who redshirted last year and decided to transfer after spring practices.
Brumbaugh and Tucker filled the holes with some large replacements.
Sophomores Jeremiah Doss and Janaz Jordan were teammates at Hinds Community College before signing with the Buffs. The staff then added freshmen Lloyd Murray Jr., Na’im Rodman, Jayden Simon and Austin Williams – a group that averages 6-foot-3 and 301.3 pounds.
“The big emphasis was going to get some guys that can hold the point,” Brumbaugh of the recruiting additions.
CU will need several of the newcomers to step up this year, but with Johnson leading the way, the Buffs have a good foundation up front.
Position: Defensive line
Returners (2018 statistics)
Mustafa Johnson, Jr., 6-2, 290 (73 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 17.5 TFL, 16 QB pressures)
Terrance Lang, So., 6-7, 280 (11 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 6 QB pressures)
Nico Magri, So., 6-3, 280 (walk-on; 12 snaps played, 1 forced fumble)
Jeremiah Doss, So., 6-4, 255 (JUCO transfer)
Janaz Jordan, So., 6-4, 305 (JUCO transfer)
Lloyd Murray Jr., Fr., 6-2, 325 (true freshman)
Na’im Rodman, Fr., 6-2, 295 (true freshman)
Jalen Sami, Fr. (redshirted last year)
Jayden Simon, Fr., 6-3, 265 (true freshman)
Austin Williams, Fr., 6-5, 320 (true freshman)
Ben Martinez, Fr., 6-2, 290 (walk-on; redshirted last year)
Dante Sparaco, Jr., 6-5, 270 (walk-on; transferred from Montana State)
Israel Antwine (transferred to Oklahoma State; 16 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL, 9 QB pressures)
Javier Edwards (graduated; 36 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL)
Tava Finau (transferred; redshirted last year)
Jase Franke (graduated; 12 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 TFL)
Chris Mulumba (graduated; 24 tackles, 1 sack)
Lyle Tuiloma (graduated early; 11 tackles, 1 forced fumble)
Terriek Roberts (left team in offseason; 1 snap played)
Mo Bandi (graduated; walk-on; 1 snap played)
2019 outlook: Of the 10 defensive linemen on scholarship last season, only three were seniors, but seven are no longer here. Of the 12 on the roster this year (nine scholarship, three walk-ons), only four have ever played in a game for the Buffs. Bottom line, this position group is a whole lot different than last year. It’s difficult to gauge how good they can be until they go through camp – and perhaps even a game or two. Johnson is certainly a star after the season he had a year ago. If he can repeat that success, the lure of the NFL could make this his last year in Boulder. Lang has exceptional potential and seems to be getting better each year. A breakout season from him would be huge for the Buffs. Sami looks to replace Edwards at nose tackle and he’s got the physical tools. One member of CU’s former coaching staff believes Sami could be as good this year as Edwards was as a senior last year. The additions of Doss and Jordan are significant because they are older and have college experience. Doss, an end, earned JUCO postseason honors last year. Jordan will compete for playing time at tackle. If the Buffs can get a couple of the freshmen to step up and prove they are ready for the college game, this group could be OK.